Skipping Shinsa

On June 11th 2006, many Japanese Taido black belts met in Ito, Shizuoka prefecture for the chance to be promoted to the next rank. The high-rank shinsa is held only once a year, and getting invited is the only way to test for 4dan or above in Japan. It’s also the only way to receive the renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi teaching certifications, respectively for 4dan, 6dan, and 8dan instructors.

In 2005, two members of the Yokohama dojo passed 5dan and 6dan. At the time of this writing, two of our instructors are testing for 4dan and 7dan. I was also invited to attend the grading, but I terminated my application.

Why would I do such a thing?

First, I guess I should refer you to a few of my other articles that have to do with martial arts gradings and the belt/ranking system – check out this, this, and this. It should be pretty obvious that I’m not enamored of the way these issues are currently being handled in Japanese or American Taido. I’ve offered some ideas for improvement, but have yet to come up with what I believe to be a definitive solution to the numerous problems I’ve pointed out.

Nonetheless, if I’m going to be part of organizations that employ a ranking system, I do want to continue being promoted to higher and higher levels. I want to be careful to avoid giving the impression that I’m avoiding this shinsa to make some kind of political statement. Further, I don’t want to belittle anyone else’s grade in Taido. Though my decision not to test did include considerations beyond my own personal development, it was my own decision, made in light of examining my own values.

Let’s start with those values:

  • My own development as a person and as a martial artist
  • The development of my students as people and as martial artists

I place the highest premium on my own development. This is a natural thing to value, but I think many people overlook the obvious when it comes to making big decisions. I like to think of myself as somebody who doesn’t mistake the obvious. I feel that my development as a person is the primary concern of my life – the more I better myself, the better I can to any other thing I want to do. Just as Dr. Timothy Leary said that social intelligence increase could be exponential if pursued in earnest (because we would have smarter people studying ways to get even smarter), I believe that any improvement I make to myself improves my abilities to make other improvements to myself and anything else that needs improving.

That includes my students, which is not to suggest that I feel they are undeveloped. But they obviously would not engage in difficult work for self-improvment unless they felt a real desire to make some sort of gain. Helping them achieve their own goals in Taido is almost as important to me as achieving my own. This is because sharing something you love is much more fun than doing it by yourself. I’m really honored to have people choose me as one of their mentors in their personal development, and I have to take them into consideration in every choice I make.

Reasons to Test

Renshi Certification

Renshi in Taido equates to an instructor’s license. It used to be available from 3dan, but now only 4dan or above qualify. We don’t use the renshi (or kyoshi or hanshi) designation in America, partly because it was only a few years ago that we had more than one or two 4dan in our organization. In addition, until Bryan and I opened up shop at Georgia Tech, nobody in the States taught outside of the headquarters school, making certification beyond verbal consent unnecessary. Tom DeVenny and I are the only two instructors in America who have ever received any kind of teaching credential that extended beyond the door of the honbu dojo.

If I were to test for promotion in Japan, I would have the option to register myself as renshi, and this would theoretically give me authorization to go anywhere in the world and teach Taido. I would like to do this. In fact, testing for renshi was the original rationale for even thinking about shinsa. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a few people told me that I may as well test for 5dan while I had the opportunity. We don’t have any renshi in America. Uchida Sensei’s kyoshi is the only official teaching license in US Taido, so I figured it might be cool if I were to obtain such certification as well.

Benefit to My Students

After all, boosting the head instructor of a group has the potential to boost all of the students in that group. Me having a higher rank and the renshi title might get my club some consideration in world Taido events. It would theoretically earn me the blessing of Taido Honin to teach and test students. It may open a few doors for me in my attempts at Taido internationalization.

Multi-Color Belt

Sometimes, black is just a little boring. Maybe this is why Uchida Sensei has shifted toward the giant block-font names and multiple stripes on the black belts he gives out. I haven’t had more than one color on my belt (excluding embroidery, and I absolutely refuse to wear a belt that has stripes on it) in almost fifteen years. Outside of America, 5dan and above get to wear a fancy black/green belt that has both colors running lengthwise. They look pretty cool – or at least used to. Recently, Japan Taido is having some trouble with their uniform suppliers, and the new belts (not to mention the hakama) look like crap. People often compliment me on my good-looking belt (which I had custom made for myself), so maybe I should stick with that for now.

Novelty

I’ve never taken a grading in Japan. It would have been something interesting that I could have said I did.

I’m Good Enough

This is the most important reason. I’m very much good enough to be 5dan in Taido. I don’t always show this in the right ways to the right people, but I think this website offers a certain amount of evidence that my passion for and thinking about Taido go at least a little beyond what most practitioners exhibit.

Maybe I don’t always give the “correct” answers about Taido theory, but it’s usually not for lack of understanding. I do an average of 15 hours per week of reading and research in fields related to Taido. I am involved in physical exploration and practice for at least a solid hour every single day. When I do something that’s a little different, there’s a reason. Taido is supposed to be evolving, and I’m dedicated to pushing that envelope to the extremes. I think this is more important than playing it safe and copying the Taido everyone else is doing.

I personally know a lot of renshi in Taido who are terrible instructors. I feel I should be offered every recognition of my teaching efforts and skills in contrast to those who are teachers in name, but not in action. I also know a lot of 5dan. Some of them are really good, and I would be honored to be counted among them. Others of them are not very good at all, and I have just enough ego to admit that this bothers me.

Setting an Example

Beyond the above, 4dan has some serious kind of inertia. This seems to be true of all martial arts. There seems to be some sort of almost gravitational force that holds martial artists down to 4dan for extremely long periods of time. Many instructors just stop grading at this point, even though they are actively teaching and practicing. I can respect the reasons why they may wish to do this, because I too am extremely disillusioned with politics that surround high-rank promotions, but I’ve always looked at giving up as a bit of a cop out. If more of us who actually are qualified and actually do practice were to actively seek promotion, it might do something to change the sad state of the current ranking system for the better.

Reasons Not To Test

It’s Silly Expensive

The test for any level above 3dan is almost $200 in Japan. That’s probably consistent with what most martial arts organizations charge for advanced gradings, but there’s really no justification for that kind of price.

I’ve helped to arrange large events and track registrations in American Taido for a very long time. Making some rough assumptions about the transportation costs of the examiners, the number of people grading, and the costs of the venue, I don’t see any reason why this grading should cost any more than sixty or seventy American dollars. Karate ranking organizations often cite the cost of “registering” ranks, but I could build a database for tracking worldwide belt promotions in about an hour, and my office has equipment that could reproduce the certificates quite easily.

Actually, the fee was one of the reasons I considering an attempt at 5dan. Since I am already 4dan, it seems ridiculous to pay that kind of money to test for 4dan again just so I could register for renshi. Speaking of renshi – that costs close to $300. For that price, I would want a half-day seminar on theory and methods and some sort of printed materials. I have attended hundred-dollar seminars and that have damn-near changed my life, but I’ve never paid $300 for a piece of paper before. Which brings me to my next point:

It’s Just a Piece of Paper

Now some folks might disagree with me here. That’s fine. But I’m not trying to open a dojo in Japan, so a fancy certification in fancy kanji with a big red stamp does not do anything for me (and I can actually read what all those squiggles are supposed to mean).

The first time I thought about grading in Japan, I was having a talk with Saito Sensei about some of the things I want to do in the future (specifically, opening more clubs in the States). He asked me if I was renshi, and I said “nope.” He told me that I should grade so I can teach, and I just took it at face value because I know that he likes me and wants to help me out. Thinking more deeply a few hours later, I realized what a strange reason that was to test. Especially considering that I’ve been teaching independently for about ten years now. Certainly, my lack of renshi papers has not done anything to diminish the quality of my instruction, as anyone familiar with the program at Tech can attest.

What Saito Sensei meant was that I would have the official certification from Taido Honin. Though I already have a nice certificate announcing my credentials to teach in America, I am not recognized by Taido Honin as a real instructor. However, nobody in America recognizes Taido Honin as anything at all, so it’s not such a big deal (and I’m not writing that to be snide – it’s just that they haven’t really done very much to make themselves known in America). Even assuming some “moral” responsibility to be certified, do I really expect that I would receive any actual support for my troubles? I have plenty of people who want to support my Taido, so it’s really moot, but I seriously doubt that anyone from honin is going to be offering me much help in the things I hope to accomplish.

Politics

The first issue that comes up is that, even though I was in Japan then, I wasn’t going to be for long. I’m still an American, and plan to do much of my Taido in America in the future. Everyone in Japan knows this, as does everyone in America. By cross-ranking I would be inviting all sorts of irrelevant comparisons, questions as to where my loyalty lay (the answer: to myself and my students), and other stupidity.

Not to mention that there are a few people over here who don’t get along with my teacher very well. I would not like to be creating a situation in which they felt that I could be used as some sort of bargaining chip in negotiations with American Taido in the future. For that matter, what do we need to negotiate about anyway? Why is ranking so fucking political anyway? I don’t know, but most martial artists who know anything will readily admit that anything above 4dan has very little to do with ability and a lot to do with politics. I work in the public school system, so I don’t need any more politics when it comes to Taido.

Detriment to My Students

There’s the possibility that my testing could have some negative impacts on relations between Japan Taido and American Taido. Since I have some great friends in Japan and obligations to students in Atlanta, I don’t want to do anything that might make it difficult for them to benefit from what I do. I don’t want to end up on anybody’s don’t-talk-to-this-guy list because I took some stupid test. I feel that my students have a lot to gain from my extended network of Taido contacts, so I want to work hard to maintain and improve them.

If I fuck things up politically in Japan, Uchida Sensei won’t have a lot of choice to have me as part of his organization – and that’s something neither of us wants. I can’t become a liability for him because it jeopardizes Taido for everyone in the States. Of course, I will always have the ability to practice and teach Taido, regardless of what anybody else says, but I’d much prefer to do it in a way that benefits as many people as possible. There is enough negativity in the world. If I can’t have my promotion in a healthy and positive way, I’m not interested in testing.

Seeking Council

Man, I talked to a lot of people about this, and I was leaning toward testing until a couple of days before the deadline. Lots of Japanese black belts were behind me testing, including most of the guys who would have been evaluating me. The original suggestion to go for 5dan came from someone whose opinion I respect very much.

I sought advice from Negishi Sensei (as I often do about such matters), and he told me pretty much what I could have expected: figure out what’s best for you, and do that. He said I should consult Uchida Sensei (duh), but that I should make my own choice to do what’s best for myself, even if it meant going against Uchida. I thought about this.

When I called Uchida, he was excited to hear from me, probably because he had been planning to test three of my students for shodan at the time. I told him that I needed some advice and explained the situation, including the pros and cons I had determined, as listed above (yes, even about the fancy belt). He told me to do what I wanted to do. He didn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of me testing for 5dan (and he’s the one who brought that up – not me), and he seemed to think the renshi certification was viable. But he also warned me to remember the political factor, and told me to be sure that I was comfortable with the possible consequences that could arise if I were to test. And I have to admit – that thought did sway my decision.

Soooooo…

Well, as I said at the beginning of the article, I didn’t test. I could have done so, and there would have been some possible benefits, but there was a risk that I could create some serious political tension by grading outside of my own organization.

It’s really a shame that situations like this arise, and I know some of my friends will argue that they only come up in Taido between Japan and America. Maybe they’re right, but I’m not so sure. What I know for a fact is that a big part of the political stuff is just ego crap that doesn’t interest me. Not at all. It didn’t in Japan, and it doesn’t in America either.

I still plan to someday pass 5dan (and at least a couple more levels after that) and register an instructor’s rank, but neither one is a big priority to me at the moment. Especially since I don’t believe that the qualification criteria and examination procedures are indicative of the healthy and positive recognition of individual achievements I would like to see replace the current belt/rank system.

So, in light of this experience, I will go back to the drawing board on my own solutions for a better system that will work for the highest good of all in Taido. I hope that, in an easy and relaxed manner, we can begin to reorganize our art’s administration to respond fairly and appropriately to changes and shifts that meet the needs of all practitioners. This, in lieu of the current hierarchy (pyramid scheme) of senior authority being centralized according to tradition in Japan, is one of my dreams for the future of Taido.

7 thoughts on “Skipping Shinsa”

  1. I am not sure if should congratulate you for reaching this decission as I personally think that you should try for 4 dan. However, I do respect Your decision. Just some thoughts though. Eventhough you have been teaching for a long time and probably is very good at it, as Taido has a system for licening(?) teachers (renshi, kyoshi and hanshi) why do most westerners make up their own system? I don’t say that the present system is the best, but building a system that only bases on dan degrees differs from the notion and understanding I have of japanese martial arts in general and taido specifically. In Europe, as well as the US as you described it, the number of renshi and kyoshi is very low. The result of this is that we don’t have enough examiners for keeping up the spread of Taido. I don’t say that we should have everyone get a title, but many people are like you and have practiced for 15 to 20 years and still have no right to examine students.
    I don’t think that ‘taido’ do benefit from people not taking a test when they both have the experience and skills to do so. Moreover, taking a test is (read should) not be equal to pass it, thus the mind to challange one’s abilities is important for further development. I don’t believe that you actually will be able to achieve a similar challange on your own.
    I just say ” go for it Andy, go for it!”.

  2. honestly, i wouldn’t have a problem doing 4dan again except that it’s really expensive for a recognition i feel i already have surpassed. i’m nearing the end of my tenure in japan, and i look at 50000 yen for shinsa and certification and think “moving expenses”. it is my intention to test for renshi at some future point, but i will wait until i feel the time is right to take that test in connection with a shot at 5dan.

    i like the idea of licensing teachers, but as i mentioned in another comment, i don’t think it should be tied to rank. i’ve been teaching taido in various capacities since i was 14 years old. i’ve also taught music, tutored several acedemic subjects, and now teach at a public school. those factors are not addressed by my belt level.

    the reason that westerners have had to create alternate ranking systems is precisely because the japanese system is based on a rank minimum. the ability to teach basic hokei is not reserved to 4dan and above, nor even to black belts. i have seen some green and brown belt students who are very good at teaching beginning students. given a usable curriculum, i believe many 1kyu could successfuly manage and teach a club full of beginning students, provided there is regular supervision from a more-expert instructor.

    the fact that martial arts have a cultural tradition in japan provides an infrastructure that we in the west do not have. it’s much easier here for instructors to find places to train, which makes it easier to run a club. this allows them to keep training, keep grading, and keep improving their certifications. in japan, you don’t have to fly to japan to take an “official” shinsa. from everywhere else in the world, you do, and that’s a distinct disadvantage. when you have a natural disadvantage, you look for ways to get around it. thus, every taido association has a slightly different system.

    i also know that there is a money issue. since the taido honin doesn’t seem to support taido outside of japan (and i mean support, not show up at events), the students in other countries wonder exactly why their rank certification costs so much. where does that money go? what do they get in return? i think that’s a major issue, in fact. money makes people start acting strange. in america, i know exactly where my money is going because i am often one of the people who helps decide how it is spent.

    however, i do agree with you that we should seek to have more licensed instructors and examiners in america, and since you mention it, in europe. i think that’s an excellent goal because it would allow us to expand more easily. i also agree that taido suffers when people pass the opertunity to grade at the right time. i have one very good friend who has refused to move beyond 4dan for over 13 years now, despite everyone’s encouragement to do so. i understand that it has little meaning to him, but i feel that he exemplifies many of the qualities i like to see in an instructor, so i feel he should grade. in the same way, i feel i should grade – just not right now.

    and amen to this: Moreover, taking a test is (read should) not be equal to pass it, thus the mind to challange one’s abilities is important for further development.

    i don’t want to pass if i suck. that’s one more reason not to test for 5dan yet. i haven’t passed my own 5dan test yet, so it would feel empty to me to pass an external one.

    I don’t believe that you actually will be able to achieve a similar challange on your own.

    though it’s very difficult to achieve this development in the absence of external measurement, taido belt exams are not my only means of external measurement. this summer, three of my students will pass shodan. this is one goal i have been working on for a very long time. next year, i am planning to open two more university taido clubs. that’s another goal i have. after accomplishing these two things, the ability to officially grade students will become a much higher priority to me.

    I just say ” go for it Andy, go for it!”.

    i thank you for that. rest assured that i am very much going for it. i’m quite possibly doing so in an odd way, but i’m going for it nonetheless. i’m not skipping shinsa totally – i’m just skipping this one.

    again, thanks for the insight and encouragement. i think what you’ve said here is important for anyone practicing taido outside of japan. i hope they’re reading closely…

  3. Yes, the system in the west, based on various factors, is a very different system from the Japanese. And, as you mentioned, the money issue is a very important, yet delicate, thing we have to overcome.
    At several times in life I have chosen to follow my heart instead of doing the rational thing, or following the stream as one might put it. However, being an “outsider” (not being a member of the renshi/kyoshi/hanshi group) makes it very hard to create a fruitful conversation with the people who actually might be able to change things.

    I agree with you that the quality of a teacher does not necessarily reflect his/her rank, and of course the opposite and it is very common in the Japanese society that people with high ranks not necessarily are good teachers. Referees would be the same thing, I guess.
    I don’t have the solution, but I think that we need to specify what an instructor (renshi) is supposed to be able to do. In Japan, as far as my knowledge reaches, there is no such educational system for taido, there was but it has not been updated recently. Other martial arts might have that, but in general I guess it is not that common at all. In the west, on the other hand, we tend to create curriculums for what to achieve before reaching a certain level and also we test our students, sometimes maybe to a too far an extent. So the result is that we have a fairly large amount of black belts, often well qualified as teachers both when it comes to experience and knowledge to be renshis, and in Japan we have a large number of renshis who have not gotten a proper education to be able to do high qualitative teaching.
    I don’t say that the level of black belts in the west is higher than the Japanese, as the Japanese have a language advantage which enables them to comprehend vast information about taido. And there are many very good instructors out there too. However, when it comes to other dimensions of teaching, pedagogy,  physical education (how to warm up, stretch, build training schedules, etc.) and similar issues, the level of knowledge is not always as high among Japanese instructors as it is among western instructors.
    My hope is that this change when inter-cultural communication and exchange will increase and the pressure from outside Japan will increase. So in order to get Your voice heard and recognized in Japan, thus enable a change, I think you will have to get your title. It doesn’t “license” you as a teacher, or even helps you become a better teacher maybe, but at least it gives you a proof that you are an accepted teacher of Taido in Japan and internationally.

  4. I have a couple questions and thoughts….

    1) Who “tests” for these big promotions? Some old Japanese guys who are trying to run Taido into the ground, while grasping to keep control of Taido by a thread?

    2) Why would anyone want such a promotion from anyone other than Dr. Shukumine? I think the certificate is waste of a perfect tree, which could have been a perfectly good makiwara.

    3) Is having a bad shajo-geri (manji?) a requirement?

    4) Is performing excessive un-soku a physical requirement?

    5) Does the physical test require anything but Tengi or Tentai no Hokei?

    6) Is losing track of score during a WTC mactch part of the memorization phase?

    7) Do you have to smoke 35 cigarettes and drink 6 Liters of Whisky the night before?

    8) Are you allowed to kick and punch hard, or is that considered a detriment?

    Andy, forget about ShinSha, or Cha Cha Cha, or the dog and pony show…..you know what’s most important…..practicing, training, teaching, training, training, creating. Even Japanese know it doesn’t mean anything, its just an “entitlement”. Remember when you got your Sho-Dan????? Now that’s meaning!!!!!!!

  5. ok, then “taido guy” – i have some answers and some thoughts of my own…

    1) this time, some very good friends of mine were testing for big promotions, as well as some folks i don’t know very well. while all of them are japanese, only a very few are over 35 years old. i don’t believe any of them are trying to run taido into the ground – of course i can only speak for those whom i know personally. since none of them currently control taido, i don’t feel that they are grasping to keep control of it.

    2) because taido shouldn’t die with shukumine. sure, we could just stop improving, evolving, and giving each other recognition, but i think we would all meet a very disappointed saiko shihan when we finally made it to taido heaven. i personally want “such a promotion” from mits uchida. does that make my taido illegitimate? understand, i’m not interested in fancy certificates to hang on my wall here, but i do have plenty of better things to do with my time than punch makiwara. one of them is working on developing a more effective curriculum and evaluation procedure.

    3) no. no, it isn’t. but if it were, i would be assured of a very high score.

    4) how much unsoku is excessive? i guess the natural corollary would be “how little unsoku is adequate?” that’s kind of a case-by-case judgement to make. in this instance, we are spared such philosophical conundra, as no unsoku is required at all.

    5) the physical test requires any one of the eighteen canonical taido hokei.

    6) since the high-rank shinsa is unrelated to the judging ranks, i wouldn’t imagine so. in any event, i don’t feel tournament judges should have to keep track of scores, as they should focus their complete attention on watching the matches and making good calls. there are court assistants assigned to keep track of points and warnings so the judges can concentrate on performing their actual duties.

    7) usually, the drinking comes after the test, but cigarettes are almost a social requirement for men in japan. you have to take account of your cultural bias when looking at the behavior of those in other countries. japan is becoming more health conscious all the time, but smoking remains popular. however, despite the remaining prevalence of tobacco use, the average japanese lives longer than the average american. in any event, most of the younger generation of taidoka do not smoke, though most of them do engage in binge drinking.

    8) you are indeed allowed to punch and kick hard. these are only considered a detriment if the candidate is attempting to use power in lieu of finesse. since taido is about using sophisticated movements, sometimes less power is desirable.

    i can forget the cha cha, and i can forget the dog and pony show. shinsa is a little different to me. i can’t forget shinsa because i’m not satisfied with it. where you appear to be one of those people who enjoy ridiculing things you don’t like, i prefer to work on making improvements. though perhaps you were attempting to be funny, your comments reveal more than a little bitterness. perhaps you would do well to read less talk, more rock.

    you say that practicing, training, teaching, and creating are the most important things. i would argue that shinsa relates to each of these. in the interest of brevity, i’ll only discuss teaching in this post. in most modern conceptions of pedagogy, evaluation is considered extremely important. if we don’t test our students (and our teachers), we have no way of knowing whether our methods are effective or not. since taido is a cumulative learning process, there is a very real hierarchy of knowledge, experience, understanding, and ass-kicking ability. while i don’t believe the current ranking system aligns well with the actual hierarchy, we can try to build a system that does.

    Even Japanese know it doesn’t mean anything, its just an “entitlement”.

    uhhh, yeah… i’ll refrain from giving a sermon on “meaning” for now, but let’s be careful with our sweeping assumptions and generalizations. many japanese people do think the shinsa means something. some of them don’t think it means very much, but they want to make it mean more. i know a good many who are trying to make taido bigger and better and have more meaning for more people.

    Remember when you got your Sho-Dan????? Now that’s meaning!!!!!!!

    ok – i can’t ignore your offensively excessive punctuation. you make a comment about excessive unsoku above and then use five question marks and seven exclamation marks for two sentences? i’d rather find out what too much unsoku looks like…

    nonetheless, i do remember my shodan test, and i do feel it was important. however, to be totally honest, i was fifteen then, so i can’t make any claims that i did anything spectacular. american taido has come a long way since that time, and so have i. as a result, my shodan test is not the most meaningful event in my taido career. i think everyone creates their own meaning for their experiences, but i already wrote an article about this, so i’m not going to take it any further now.

  6. Andy,

    I think you took some of my statements personally, and responded a bit abrasively. Your blog is interesting, and I wish more people would speak what’s on their mind openly as opposed to having either a “blue skies on a Sunday afternoon” view of Taido or “I’ll just accept getting hosed” view.

    -You and I both know that a select few blackbelts are running Taido into the ground now.
    – Makiwara is good practice, and a lot of students should re-take it up because it trains your hands well when done right. Taido did not die with Shukumine at all…just don’t care for most of his replacements. There were much better folks IN Japan who I would gladly take a test from.
    -Unecessary unsoku use runs rampant now in many parts of the world, due to ridiculous rules that Dr. Shukumine never made/taught. Newer unsoku rules were made to fit the Japanese body and style of Jissen. Period.
    -Most Japanese would even admit that the focus on Tengi has spiraled out of control, to the point where outsiders look at Taido as gymnastics. Its Not just my opinion, but many other martial artists who have seen Taido tournaments or videos tend to always have the same response. Its sad when a guy who doesn’t even punch on a flat plane or straight for that matter can when a Hokei tournament at the highest levels of competition.
    -Agreed, its not a Judges job to tally scores during a Jissen match. But it IS the head (chief) Judge’s responsibility to get the scores right through careful deliberation when the final score is in question/confused. Not supposed to just make a quick decision without consulting the other judge/and or scorer’s table.
    -I was trying to be funny on some other thoughts…oh well.
    -Finally, there are people who hold 4/5/6/7/8 degree blackbelts…and its a complete joke. Period. Because of some crazy crazy promotions (or lack there of for many deserving), the legitimacy of post SaikoShihan leadership is seriously questionable. I should also say there are some great higher degree blackbelts too all over Europe and Japan, and are moving Taido in the right direction.

  7. I think you took some of my statements personally, and responded a bit abrasively. Your blog is interesting, and I wish more people would speak what’s on their mind openly as opposed to having either a “blue skies on a Sunday afternoon” view of Taido or “I’ll just accept getting hosed” view.

    and now let’s take a brief pause to remember some of the pitfalls of text-based communication… you are correct, i took it personally, because i have some really good friends (go-out-and-hit-on-young-women-at-bars kind of friends) who also happen to have high ranks in taido. i (and they) realize that there are some decidedly awful “leaders” in the upper echelons of that taido hierarchy. i also talk to some of those awful black belts and realize that they think they are doing things right. it’s hard to make a quick statement about that kind of stuff because we all have our strengths and weaknesses (except me; i’m perfect), and that’s exactly why we have organizations and associations.

    anyway, i apologize for being abrasive and thank you for clarifying your intentions. i understand that you we trying to be humorous, and in a different mood, i may have found your post to be the funniest thing i had read since the last time i graded english exams. i really do appreciate good satire, but being as it’s almost absent from japanese culture, perhaps i’ve lost my sense for it. besides that, you have to admit that there is a good share of “ironic” masking going around these days when people have a sour-grapes reaction. anyway, i see where you are coming from now, and you bring up a couple of interesting points that i’d like to address.

    re: some people running taido into the ground
    not going to happen. here’s the reality. these guys are too old to run taido into the ground, try as they may. we won’t let them.

    the truth is, the old guys are going to die. i don’t mean to be morbid, but they didn’t get to their current positions by being the types of people to hand over the reigns or delegate well. they will hold on to as much control as they can until their cold, black hearts stop pumping, but then they will be gone, and we won’t have to deal with them anymore. granted, they have students, and they’ve been teaching these students that their way is the best way. some of the 30 – 50 set in japan has adopted the antiquated and stupid ways of the “bad” teachers, but i’m not convinced that these people are totally sold on the dark side. let’s also not forget that there are also some really great teachers who are doing wonderful things and trying to make taido the best it can be.

    over the past year especially, i’ve been on a campaign of sorts, making as many friends as i can in taido. it’s been a lot of fun, and i’ve learned that there is hope for taido – even in japan. the guys who are a little younger and older than me in taido are pretty much all great people. yeah, there’s a couple of narcissists and power-hungry wannabe tyrants, but they are the minority. the future generation of taido leaders is actually very cool. i’ve been hanging out and getting to know them. we respect each other. we’re not going to let historical politics get in the way of our friendship and mutual love of taido. that’s a real commitment that we hope to expand by promoting greater international exchange and friendship in our art.

    the other relevant consideration is that hierarchies naturally subvert themselves. the corporate model of business is finding this out more and more in america, and i think we’ll be seeing more examples in the martial arts as more sites like 24fc, ktjw, and even taido/blog begin to pop up. as you said, people speaking their minds. read cluetrain, and you’ll have an idea of what i mean by this. japanese taido got sucked into becoming a collegiate clubsport in order to build numbers, and this has proven to be at odds with the stated objectives of out art. unfortunately, we haven’t have the means to honestly and earnestly promote quality taido. this is slowly but surely turning around as the japanese college athletes graduate and become members of society, and as non-japanese associations begin to communicate more freely and cut the umbilicus from japan taido.

    given the expectation to do taido for at least 100 years, it’s easy for me to take this long perspective on things. while it may seem that taido is being mutilated and destroyed right now, if enough of us who have higher intentions stick around, things will improve. the problem in the past is that those who wanted to improve things couldn’t handle the politics and gave up (i could give you a list). we’re getting to the point that we no longer have to quit taido when we have different ideas.

    one other thing i want to briefly address is that you mention that the post-shukumine leadership is questionable. i couldn’t agree more, and many japanese taidoka are on our side as well. however, i should point out that even shukumine’s leadership was questionable at times. one could look at genseiryu and get an idea of the kinds of messes he created there. shukumine played favorites and held out promotions as carrots on a stick at times. he was a brilliant martial artist, but perhaps not the greatest of managers. let’s not forget that he grew up in pre-war japan and what that says about the ideas and attitudes that were instilled in him as a young man. keep in mind, i loved him and love what he had to say, but he also had flaws, made mistakes, built ideas on false assumptions and bad information, had an ego, was very competitive, and was constantly being bombarded with people calling him master and bowing and scraping around him. just some things to consider.

    re: unsoku rules and other competition stuff
    ah, the ever-changing rules of jissen – a constant source of confusion and disillusionment for non-japanese students. yes, the japanese judges are constantly changing the rules, and they tend to forget to forward those memos outside of their own borders. that said, i think the rules regarding unsoku are almost necessary. actually, they were designed to fix a few distinct issues that arose with lower-level competitors. essentially, they are a patch (though we should really focus on solving such problems at their source – our methods of teaching, practice, and evaluation).

    what was happening is that people started getting black belts sooner than they had been. this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it results in people entering competitions with much less taido experience than before. these students were able to pass the tests to make shodan and above because those examinations consist of a multiple-choice quiz and a single hokei performance. young, athletic college students could easily focus on performing clean hokei and pass their shinsa. however, they tend to be severely underdeveloped in their abilities to apply taido as a budo. particularl, they have learned to mimic the forms, but don’t understand the subtleties of application. this was most obvious in their use of unsoku to control distance. just so i don’t sound as if i’m picking on the japanese college clubs, we in the states have also have problems learning to use unsoku with finesse instead of merely forcing our opponents with strength (not that strength is bad – but it isn’t always the best answer).

    so some rules were changed and others were newly created to “encourage” better unsoku. instead, they have made things worse because they require competitors to almost pantomime unsoku (what you call excessive unsoku) instead of simply using the most efficient and effective movement for the situation. it actually reminds me very much of when i had to take my driving test over here: you can’t just look in the mirror – you have to turn your head and show that you are looking so the examiner can see it.

    and now, we have similar things happening with unshin. of course, i shoudl be sure to point out that the genkaku (flipping around in the corner) rule was shukumine’s idea. since it is so easy to dominate a physical boundary with strength or size (and let’s not forget that shukumine specifically intended for these to be non-factors in taido), he decided to make things more interesting by making the more-agressive player allow the cornered player to escape. in essence, genkaku was intended to make things fairer and encourage the use of unshin. the latest evolution of the rule allows continuous techniques to be used instead of unshin, which i think is a step in the right direction as far as fairness is concerned.

    i have only attended one world championship in taido, and i don’t know specifically what incident you refer to with the main judge screwing up the scores or making a hasty and incorrect decision. however, it happens. it happens all the time, and that sucks. it happens in america too. last year, at our 30th anniversary tournament, i was actually embarrassed by the judging at a couple of points. but that’s the nature of judging competitions – it’s subjective, and the judges are set up as infallible, though they are every bit as human as the next guy.

    i know what you mean about about the focus on tengi and unshin. the reason it has been so blown out of proportion is that it was one of shukumine’s favorite ideas and one of the ones he was pushing near the time of his death. i think it’s great fun and has a world of applicability (and have even written a short article about it), but i hate how it is abused for its own sake.

    re: makiwara
    i don’t do it; i don’t advise it. it can be great practice if done right, but so few people do it right (and i’m talking about people who have been hitting them for twenty years or more). there are better ways to learn punching mechanics for most people, like hitting a heavy bag (which most people also do totally incorrectly). as a musician, have a policy about doing things which could cause me to destroy any part of my hands. however, under the right circumstances, i could probably be persuaded to teach correct makiwara training to a select group of students. for most students though, the lure to practice poorly is too strong when it comes to training aids that provide feedback – they want to get feedback that looks positive more than they wish to actually prefect their technique.

    I should also say there are some great higher degree blackbelts too all over Europe and Japan, and are moving Taido in the right direction.

    and that’s the reason to be optimistic. you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that students in japan (and elsewhere) express similar concerns regarding american taido. most of their arguments are quite similar to the ones you present, but the focus is somewhat shifted. i always tell them the same thing: be optimistic – there are good guys and bad guys, and contrary to what dark helmet says, the good guys do usually win. bad guys have a bad habit of either giving up or self-destructing.

    though i may get passed up for promotion by lesser taidoka, i’m one of the good guys, and most of those lesser black belts have the good sense to realize it. despite my “low” rank, i often have 5th, 6th, and 7th degree black belts asking me for information, instruction, or advice about taido. at first, this made me feel a little depressed, but then i understood that it’s actually a huge upside that they know to seek appropriate counsel. i take it as a reminder that, as i get older and move up the ranks, i’ll never be immune to fallacious logic and faulty theory. as much as i work to teach my students the things i’ve learned, i have to stay open to learn from them when i’m either wrong or just clueless. if more of us hold that idea, then we will eventually outnumber those who are creating a negative vibe in taido. that will indeed move us all in a better direction for the future.

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